WE'RE ON A MISSION
The Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape is working to eliminate all forms of sexual violence and to advocate for the rights and needs of victims of sexual assault.
The Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape, in partnership with Dr. Jackson Katz, creator and co-founder of the Mentors in Violence Prevention (MVP) program—the leading sexual and domestic violence prevention initiative in college and professional athletics—have developed a teaching tool to help high school and college football coaches and other athletic leaders discuss the issues related to the Ben Roethlisberger rape allegations.
The following talking points are designed to give coaches some ideas about what to say to their players about the Roethlisberger rape allegations and the Steelers quarterback's NFL suspension. This situation presents a classic “teachable moment” where coaches--now and throughout the season--can raise the issue of student-athlete leadership and sexual assault prevention.
Big Ben created a huge mess as a result of his own actions. The quarterback of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Ben Roethlisberger, is paying a heavy price for his unacceptable behavior in a bar’s bathroom in Milledgeville, Georgia earlier this year, when he allegedly sexually assaulted a 20-year-old woman. Although no rape charges were brought against Roethlisberger in the March 4 incident, he was suspended for six games by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, lost some endorsements and witnessed a decline in sales of his football jersey. But let’s remember that Big Ben is not the victim here. You could even say he is getting off lightly, considering that he might have been charged with first-degree rape.
Sexual violence is a big problem in this country and it affects many of the girls – and boys – that you know. Approximately 1 in four girls and 1 in six boys will be a victim of sexual assault before the age of 18. Think about your sister, your girlfriend or your mother. How would you feel if someone sexually assaulted them? Sadly, some of you have women and girls in your lives – including members of your own families – who have experienced sexual abuse and assault. This issue is personal for a lot of men. Male student-athletes have an important role to play in preventing it – especially by making it clear to your teammates and friends that mistreating anyone sexually is wrong -- and you will not tolerate it.
(Note: Coaches should feel free to use any personal anecdotes if you feel comfortable doing so, although please remember not to disclose information about any victims without their explicit permission. An example of what you might say: “I can tell you that this issue is personal for me. I have two young daughters, and if anything ever happened to one of them … I don’t even want to think about how I or my wife would feel.”).
Leadership in sports means leadership on and off the field. If you want your teammates to trust and respect you, then you have to earn that trust by the way you conduct yourself 24/7, not just during a winning touchdown drive or a goal-line stance. Leadership isn’t something that gets switched off because the game clock expired. Leadership doesn’t ‘just happen.’ It isn’t ‘automatic.’ It is something that is earned and exemplified (or illustrated) continually. People give you their trust and respect; and people can easily take it away when you demonstrate that you no longer deserve it. Either way, it’s all based on your behavior.
Men who mistreat women are never proving their strength or manliness. Rather, they’re revealing their belief in the deeply discredited and unacceptable idea that men are entitled to treat women as objects, like property, to be controlled, used and discarded. They’re also displaying serious shortcomings in their character, flaws in their personality and cause for intervention or professional help.
Athletes are in the spotlight. Playing sports garners you attention; get used to it. As an athlete, you may not obtain the same level of fame as the two-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback of the Pittsburgh Steelers, but you have to know that in our sports-saturated society, your behavior will be publicly scrutinized.
Athletes get a lot of media coverage for their abilities and accomplishments. Therefore you have to expect that when you break the law or choose to act in high-risk ways, you’re also going to attract attention -- and your problems might be on the 6 o’clock news.
Teammates and friends have an important role to play in interrupting and preventing violence against women. Eyewitness accounts from March 4 revealed that Roethlisberger was surrounded by paid bodyguards and unpaid companions who failed to raise objections to his repeated sexist comments and aggressive behaviors toward women -- behaviors that Sports Illustrated and other media investigations alleged to be part of a long-standing pattern.
If you ever see your teammate acting disrespectfully to women, or abusive in any way, don’t just walk away. Say something, or do something, that communicates to him that you don’t approve of his behavior. Get others to help you. Tell a team captain. Tell an adult in a position of authority. By stepping in, your actions could help prevent abusive behaviors and save your teammate from ruining his life and reputation.
Alcohol does not cause men to assault women. Drinking alcohol may cause people to lose their inhibitions disinhibit and therefore facilitate abusive behavior, but it does not cause it. Saying “I was drunk” is not an excuse for coercing, abusing or committing violence against another person. Some people like to use alcohol as an excuse to no longer ‘obey the rules,’ but ultimately you choose to drink. Alcohol does not cause the violence but allows people to use it as an excuse to act out pre-existing, anti-social feelings or beliefs. You know how I feel about underage drinking. Anyone under the legal age should not be drink. But if a person you know acts out in an aggressive and violent manner when he drinks, then he should stop drinking immediately. As peers, you need to support him and confront him if his drinking continues.
False reports of rape do occur, but they are rare. A lot of guys think women lie about being raped. They point to anecdotal incidents, such as the Duke lacrosse team fiasco and generalize about how common they think false reports really are. But false reports are rare, approximately 2 to 5 percent. In fact, according to the FBI, 75-80 percent of rapes are never reported. Women who have been raped – especially if the alleged perpetrator is a popular guy – face incredible pressure from his friends – and sometimes hers – to remain silent. Even the process of reporting is very difficult, embarrassing and painful. In addition, women who report rape are often the target of harassment, verbal abuse, and social ostracism. Think about it: why would women willingly bring all of that on themselves under false pretenses? In the vast majority of cases, women who report rape have been sexually assaulted – whether the district attorney decides to pursue criminal charges or not.
None of this excuses the actions of women – or men – who falsely report rape. If a young man is the victim of a false allegation, it can be a devastating and damaging experience. One suggestion – don’t ever put yourself in a situation where sexual consent is not clear. If you have any doubts, stop. If you see a friend acting in a way that suggests he might not have consent, or if he is pursuing sex with a girl whose age or state of inebriation might preclude her from being able to consent, interrupt him, confront him and stop him.
Pornography is not real life. The sexual scenarios many of you have been exposed to online or in movies and magazines depict staged performances by paid actors and actresses. In real life, women don’t enjoy being degraded and treated like objects/receptacles. If you treat women the way they are treated in most porn, you’re not only being disrespectful, but you might find yourself committing acts of criminal sexual assault.
Your actions affect others. What each guy on the team does – how he conducts himself in public, or in his relationships and interactions with girls – reflects not only on him and his family, but on his teammates, his coaches, and the entire athletic program. In the Roethlisberger case, Big Ben not only damaged to his own reputation, but he also tarnished the image of the Pittsburgh Steelers. You owe it to the people around you – including your teammates – to treat women and men – with respect and dignity.
Ask yourself what matters most in life. Football is very special to all of us here, but there are more important things in life than being a good football player or coach. As much as I’d like to be known for excellence on the field, I also want to be known for the quality of my character off the field. I know you agree with me. I hope this sad situation prompts you to reflect on what is truly meaningful in your life and the lives of those around you. And I hope this discussion helps to strengthen your resolve to treat women with respect and dignity and to speak out when you see others not treating them this way.
Jackson Katz, Ph.D., is the creator and co-founder of the Mentors in Violence Prevention (MVP) program, the leading sexual and domestic violence prevention initiative in college and professional athletics. For more information, visit www.jacksonkatz.com.